A Death in the Tinker Family

By Mark Walsh — April 01, 2008 1 min read
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Lorena Jeanne Tinker, the mother of two students at the center of one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most significant rulings on free speech rights in schools, has died.

Mrs. Tinker was the mother of John and Mary Beth Tinker, who wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War in 1965, leading to the landmark 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The court held that wearing such armbands was symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment as long as school was not substantially disrupted.

Mrs. Tinker, who had two other sons and three other daughters, was a longtime peace activist and a college teacher of psychology and education. She died Feb. 28 in Fayette, Mo., at age 86, according to an obituary in the Columbia Missourian. (Thanks to How Appealing for the tip.)

Three years ago, I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of days with John and Mary Beth Tinker, visiting Iowa State University in Ames and a high school in Des Moines, where the brother and sister discussed their roles in the famous student rights case that bears their name. The Education Week feature story that resulted reflected that the Tinkers were very much influenced by their parents. Their father, Leonard Tinker, died in 1978.

There is an excellent book I consulted for my story on the Tinkers: The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v. Des Moines and the 1960s, by John W. Johnson, a history professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

In the book, Johnson makes numerous references to Lorena Tinker’s supportive role for John and Mary Beth during the armband controversy. Mrs. Tinker was on a bus trip to Washington with John in November 1965 that helped inspire the wearing of armbands by several students in the Des Moines schools to protest the war several weeks later.

And, Johnson writes, at a packed Des Moines school board meeting a few days after the students began wearing the armbands, that Lorena Tinker “told the board and the audience that she and her husband had not raised John and Mary Beth to be defiant but that they certainly supported their children’s right to express their views on governmental policy in the fashion that they had chosen.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.